As a new temporary exhibition exploring the first generation of Holocaust researchers opens at The Wiener Library, Lara Sebire Hawkins looks at three of the key figures in the story
The Wiener Library’s spring 2019 exhibition, Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers, traces the stories and legacies of the individuals and institutions who first collected evidence of the crimes of the Holocaust and offers visitors the chance to learn about those who carried out this imperative work as genocide unfolded around them, and those who much later pursued justice and remembrance.
Here is a preview of three of the individual stories The Wiener Library will be exploring.
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Filip Müller secretly gathered evidence of the genocide carried out at Auschwitz-Birkenau while he was a Sonderkommando (member of a forced labour unit) forced to clear bodies from the gas chambers and crematoria.
Müller gathered evidence of the atrocities that he witnessed, including a plan of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp crematoria and gas chambers, lists of the names of the SS members working there and notes on the transports that arrived. He also obtained a label from a can of Zkylon B gas – the substance used to murder people in the gas chambers.
Müller passed this evidence to fellow prisoners who managed to escape from the camp system on 7th April 1944. Shortly after The Auschwitz Protocols were produced – a collection of papers based on the evidence of Müller and others of Nazi activities and plans at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After being forced on death marches to various camps in the face of the advancing Red Army, Müller was liberated in early May 1945. Later in his life he gave testimony about his experiences, including to The Wiener Library in the 1950s, at the second Auschwitz trial in 1964, and to Claude Lanzmann in the film Shoah (1985). He published a memoir of his time in Auschwitz in 1979.
Dr Alfred Wiener (1885-1964), Founder of The Wiener Library
Dr Alfred Wiener created the first systematic collection of evidence of Nazi persecution of the Jews. Wiener served in the First World War and was horrified by the far-right extremism and anti-Semitism that emerged after Germany’s defeat. He began to write and campaign to warn people of the consequences of allowing this hatred to grow.
By 1925, he was concentrating all his efforts almost entirely on the Nazi Party, which he saw as the most dangerous force in German politics.
In 1933, Wiener fled with his family to the Netherlands and in Amsterdam set up the Central Jewish Information Office, which collected and disseminated evidence of the Nazi assault on Jewry and the fate of Jewish refugees. In the summer of 1939, he moved his collection to London, where it served the British government throughout the war.
Dr Eva Reichmann (1897-1998), Director of Research at The Wiener Library
Dr Eva Reichmann, a prominent German historian and sociologist who fled Nazi persecution in Germany in 1939, became the Director of Research at The Wiener Library, where she continued to research German Jewry and anti-Semitism and led a project to gather thousands of testimonies from Holocaust survivors in the 1950s.
Over a period of seven years, Reichmann and her team gathered reports from refugees and survivors in Britain and abroad. The project successfully gathered more than 1,300 reports in seven different languages.
For the ‘first generation’ of Holocaust researchers, the efforts of these pioneering researchers were particularly urgent in the face of Nazi efforts to eradicate all traces of Jewish existence from Europe. Under the most adverse conditions and often against indifference, denunciation and violence, they shaped the foundations of our current knowledge of the Holocaust.
Today, institutions such as The Wiener Library extend this legacy by continuing to collect and preserve vital evidence and testimonies. For more information: www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/crimes-uncovered
Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers is at The Wiener Library from February 27 – May 17 2019
The Wiener Holocaust Library
London, Greater London
The Wiener Holocaust Library is one of the world's leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. The Library's unique collection of over one million items includes published and unpublished works, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimony. It provides a resource to oppose antisemitism and other forms…